The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) developed the initial recovery plan for the West Indian manatee in 1980. This initial plan focused primarily on manatees in Florida, but included Antillean manatees in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as well. In 1986, USFWS adopted a separate recovery plan for manatees in Puerto Rico. To reflect new information and planning needs for manatees in Florida, USFWS revised the original plan in 1989 and focused exclusively on the Florida manatee. This first revision covered a 5-year planning period ending in 1994. USFWS revised and updated the plan again in 1996, covering a 5-year planning period ending in 2000. In 1999, USFWS initiated the process to revise the plan for a third time. An 18-member recovery team (consisting of representatives of the public, agencies, and groups that have an interest in manatee recovery and/or could be affected by proposed recovery actions) was established to draft this revision (USFWS 2001).
Outside the United States, remaining populations of the West Indian manatee are believed to be much smaller than the U.S. population and are subject to poaching for food, incidental take in gill nets, and habitat loss. Manatee protection programs in many countries are not well organized or supported and, in this context, protection of the Florida population takes on international significance (USFWS 2001).
Because watercraft operators cannot reliably detect and avoid hitting manatees, federal and state managers have worked to limit watercraft speed in areas where manatees are most likely to occur to give both manatees and boaters time to avoid collisions. Two types of manatee protection areas also have been developed by USFWS: (1) manatee sanctuaries; and (2) manatee refuges. Manatee sanctuaries are areas in which all waterborne activities are prohibited, while manatee refuges are areas where certain waterborne activities are restricted or prohibited. Efforts have been made to target enforcement in an attempt to increase boater compliance with speed zones and ultimately reduce manatee injuries and death. Along with habitat management and other efforts, public awareness waterway signs and other boater education efforts are an essential component of manatee population management (USFWS 2001).
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